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Volume 15/Issue 25

by PlanetOut,, a Worldwide Online Community of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans People

lst Gay Elected to DC Council

To the surprise of almost every one, Republican newcomer David Catania bested veteran Democrat Arrington Dixon in a special election to become the first open gay or lesbian ever to win a seat on the Washington, DC City Council. Declaring his victory, Catania said, "I think we've made two important milestones. One is the first time a Republican has beaten a Democrat in a head-on race in the city. And as the first openly gay member of the City Council, that is a breakthrough, and it shows how marvelous ... open-minded, accepting and truly magnificent the people of this city are." Catania took 43% of the vote in a four-way race for an at-large seat in a city where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by ten to one, to become the second Republican on the current Council. Arrington and the "Washington Post" both believe that the low turnout for the special election contributed to Catania's upset victory.

lt's an interesting time in the history of the nation's capital. The Republican majority in the Congress recently acted to reclaim more control of the city's functioning from the hard-won home rule it had struggled to establish despite its heavy dependence on Congressional funding. One justification for the federal government taking back the reins of the District of Columbia has been alleged mismanagement in the police department. That investigation has recently focused on allegations that the police lieutenant overseeing extortion cases was himself extorting payments from a gay man-while sharing a suspiciously underpriced apartment with the police chief, who has just resigned.

High Court OKs Firing Gays, Phobe

The U.S. Supreme Court on December 1 agreed to let stand California appellate decisions in the removal of two gay men from a county Republican committee and the removal of a minister who made anti-gay remarks from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. The justices made no comment in declining to review both Paul and Kevin Wadworth Johnson's lawsuit against the El Dorado County Republican Central Committee and Eugene Lumpkin's lawsuit against former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan. The Johnsons had charged violation of their civil rights by a homophobic state assemblymember, but the appeals court found that the politician had acted in his private capacity rather than his public one. Lumpkin claimed violation of his rights to freedom of speech and religion, but the appeals court found that the Jordan administration had a right to remove him for public speech at odds with its goals and those of the Human Rights Commission.

Lumpkin, pastor of San Francisco's Ebenezer Baptist Church, was appointed to the city's Human Rights Commission in 1992 by his long-time friend and then-Mayor Frank Jordan. In a series of media interviews in 1993, Lumpkin asserted his belief in Bible texts he interprets as anti-gay. In an interview with the "San Francisco Chronicle," he said, "It's sad that people have AIDS and what have you, but it says right here in the Scripture that the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination against God.... So I have to preach that homosexuality is a sin." This immediately sparked public calls for Lumpkin's ouster from the Commission, but Jordan initially defended the minister's right to his religious beliefs. It was after a TV interview in which Lumpkin said that, because "That's what God sayeth," he agreed with the statement in Leviticus that "a man who sleeps with a man should be put to death" that Jordan asked for Lumpkin's resignation. When Lumpkin refused to resign, Jordan fired him, saying Lumpkin had "crossed the line from belief to behavior to advocacy" and "implied that he condoned physical harm," when the city could not condone "the direct or indirect advocacy of violence."

Lumpkin filed suit, holding that he had constitutional rights to hold and express his religious beliefs, and claiming that there was no evidence that his religious beliefs had affected his work with the Commission. His case was first dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Fern Smith, who affirmed Lumpkin's right to his beliefs but found that the mayor "was justified in removing him ... when the expression of those beliefs clashed with the goals of the Jordan administration." Lumpkin appealed, but the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled unanimously against him in April in even stronger terms, saying that, "the First Amendment does not assure him job security [on the Human Rights Commission] when he preaches homophobia," undermining the Commission's stated responsibilities "to eliminate prejudice and discrimination" based on grounds including sexual orientation, and to promote "equal opportunity for and good will toward all people." The ruling characterized Lumpkin's remarks as "not simply hostile to the commission's charge, they are at war with it" and said that such comment "mocks the City's antidiscrimination policy." The ruling concluded that, "Lumpkin's First Amendment rights may be trumped by important interests of the city he agreed to serve." This decision is final now that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review it.

Lumpkin's attorney, James Struck of the Virginia-based right-wing Rutherford Institute, said of the High Court's refusal to take up his appeal that the justices had lost "a golden opportunity to tell people of faith that their rights are still protected. It seems the free exercise [of religion] clause is the forgotten part of the Constitution."

In the other Supreme Court case, veteran political activists and openly gay couple Paul Johnson and Kevin Wadworth Johnson had been elected to the Republican Central Committee of El Dorado County, California as part of general elections held at public expense in 1992 and 1994. In 1993, they were sworn in by the Registrar of Voters, a public official, with the same oath of allegiance to the state and federal constitutions which public officials make. In what the couple claim is a violation of its own by-laws, the Committee held a secret meeting without notifying them or allowing them to respond, ousted them, and appointed two replacements in the absence of both the elected officials empowered to fill empty slots. The Committee then would not allow them to be sworn in in 1995, despite their having been re-elected.

The Committee's stated reason for removing them was that they had violated a rule against members supporting political opponents when they rented their ranch out for a Democratic Party fund-raiser - but two other Committee members retain their seats despite one having repeatedly rented out sites for Democratic fund-raisers and the other having had a letter published in a newspaper which openly endorsed a Democratic candidate while criticizing a Republican one.

Remarks had been made both during and outside of Committee meetings about "getting rid of the faggots" and "we've got to get rid of those queers," leading the Johnsons to believe that their unfair treatment was specifically based on their sexual orientation. Some of those remarks came from then-California state Assemblymember David Knowles, which formed part of the basis for the Johnsons' claim that their civil rights had been violated. A further element of their case, in which they were joined by three area voters, was that the votes of those citizens who had duly elected them had been thrown out, another civil rights violation.

The Committee denies that it discriminated against the Johnsons, but its brief held that even if it had, it was free to do so. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in May unanimously upheld a trial court's decision that the Johnsons had no standing to sue because the Committee's actions were those of private citizens, exempt from civil rights laws. State courts had also refused their case. Federal appellate Judge Stephen Trott wrote that, "The Supreme Court [of the United States] has held that, absent a compelling state interest, political parties are entitled to organize themselves, conduct their affairs, and select their leaders in the manner they think best, without any interference from the state." That opinion is final now that the high court has declined to review it, effectively authorizing political parties to discriminate at will.

Nicaragua Celebrates in Drag

Many cultures have Mardi Gras-like festivals including cross-dressing, but the Nicaraguan town of Masaya (17 miles southeast of Managua) has one that lasts three months - which climaxed recently with thousands of men parading in drag, according to a Reuters report.

What's now celebrated as the Feast of St. Jerome (known in Nicaragua as St. Jeronimo) is actually an observance many centuries old which has survived cultural invasions with the addition of some of their trappings to its own traditions, becoming in itself an expression of resistance. The primary activity of the feast is dancing, ranging from the very spontaneous to the carefully-choreographed, including some specific traditional dances. One of those, the danza negra (black dance) is performed by male couples in which one member wears drag; it's believed to have been used to mock Spanish invaders by fooling them into thinking they were dancing with women. The traditional Torovenado dances are specifically satirical in nature, poking fun at the pretensions of both those in power and local characters alike.

Although most of the holiday cross-dressers identify as heterosexual-even two who won drag beauty contests this year-gay men who feel stifled by the culture of machismo say they find it a liberating experience.

Married Lesbians on "20/20"

The December 4 edition of ABC's 20/20 featured a segment by John Stossel with women who were already in heterosexual marriages when they discovered that they were lesbians. Deb Abbott, co-author of From Married Wife to Lesbian Life, consulted in the show's development, although a taped interview with her was cut. Women from Boston, Cincinatti and Colorado Springs appeared with their husbands and children describing the painful process of breaking up marriages of as much as 20 years' duration.

Although some psychologists have suggested that the societal homophobia that made lesbianism unthinkable at the time some of the women were married is the key to their story, Stossel told the Philadelphia Inquirer that, "I never got a good answer for how some of them say they had great sex with their husbands, and still felt the need to break up over sexual orientation."

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